Teach Social-Emotional Skills through Literacy Workshop

by Mike Anderson, 2018 Literacy for All Conference Featured Speaker
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Social-emotional learning (SEL) is a hot topic in schools right now—as it should be. It’s increasingly clear that social and emotional skills are the keys to the kingdom—it’s the skill set that employers are seeking—the skill set that’s less likely to be outsourced or automated as our economy continues to shift. Perhaps most importantly, strong SEL skills are correlated with many measures of life-long health and happiness including lower rates of criminal activity and substance abuse and better mental health.

As I work in schools across the US, I hear a common and troubling refrain: more kids are coming to school less school-ready than ever before. Children have a hard time listening to others, making appropriate eye contact, participating in group activities, taking turns, sharing, showing empathy, and making responsible decisions. Many theories are posited by teachers. Parents rely on devices to calm/regulate young children, so they don’t know how to function without a phone or tablet in their hands. Parents themselves may lack key social and emotional skills. In some communities, there are a growing number of children coming from homes where opioids and other drugs are used.

Regardless of the reasons, it’s pretty clear that just as SEL skills are becoming even more important, many children seem to be lacking a solid foundation in these skills. To compound this challenge, teachers are already overwhelmed with all that we have to teach. Many schools are attempting to address the need to teach SEL skills by adopting programs and curricula that emphasize the teaching of SEL skills as an add-on—specific stand-alone lessons and activities to be delivered in addition to academic work. For teachers who are already swamped with too much to teach in not enough time, these boxed curricula can feel burdensome and overwhelming, especially when the required lessons don’t even align with the actual skills needed with a particular group of students!

Wouldn’t it be great if the teaching of social, emotional, and academic skills could somehow come together? What of there was a way to teach these skills as a part of daily academic work instead of on the side?

For those of us who use reading and writing workshops to teach literacy, we’ve already got (at least part of) the answer! There are tons of SEL skills that need to be taught for kids to be successful readers and writers. These are the very skills that they need to learn to be successful throughout school and beyond, and, these are the same skills needed to be successful in most literacy standards! Check out the chart below for a few examples of the overlaps between literacy skills (drawn from Common Core ELA standards), SEL skills, and structures commonly used in literacy workshops.

Literacy Skills SEL Skills Workshop Connections
  •  Read widely and deeply; devote significant time and effort to writing
  •  Focus, attention
  • Self-regulation
  • Setting and working toward goals
  • Building independent reading and writing stamina
  • Choosing just-right books and writing topics of interest
  • Explain the relationships/interactions between individuals in a text
  •  Social awareness
  • Perspective taking
  • Effective communication
  • Book group discussion
  • Reading conference
  • Read prose and poetry orally with accuracy, appropriate rate, and expression
  • Self-awareness
  • Social awareness
  • Reading conference
  • Writing share
  • With guidance and support from peers and adults, develop and strengthen writing
  • Active listening
  • Growth mindset
  • Seeking and offering help
  • Manage stress
  • Perseverance
  • Writing conference
  • Revision/editing
  • Engage in collaborative discussions with diverse partners
  • Empathy
  • Follow social and ethical norms for behavior
  • Control impulses
  • Book group discussion
  • Reading and writing workshops
  • Whole group discussions

A Few Starting Places

Once you start seeing the connections between literacy skills, SEL skills, and the structures of reading and writing workshop, you’ll be amazed at how many start to become obvious. This is both exciting and overwhelming. If every component of reading and writing workshop involves SEL skills that need to be taught (which is true), and if many literacy standards involve SEL skills to be learned (as indeed many do), and if all students need support in SEL skills (and they do), where do you start?

Weave Small Moments of SEL Teaching into Existing Lessons

Each time you’re about to teach a literacy lesson, whether it’s a whole class lesson, a small group strategy session, or a one-on-one conference, consider social or emotional skills that might be involved. Could students use some advice about how to position their bodies effectively for a writing conference? Might they generate some suggestions for how to regain focus on reading after you’ve been distracted? Would some modeling help students better understand how to ask supportive and constructive questions to help push each other’s writing? Here’s a video of a quick discussion I facilitated with a group of third graders as they were about to engage in a series of partner chats to discuss a book they had read. Notice that this is a simple small moment of teaching—something that could easily be incorporated right into many literacy lessons that you already teach.  

Explore SEL Skills in Literacy Standards

This is an activity you might try on your own, with a small group of colleagues (perhaps as a PLC or grade level team), or even with a whole staff at a faculty meeting. First, choose a set of SEL skills or competencies to use. If your district hasn’t already adopted one, you might use the CASEL framework. Another great one is the Habits of Mind. Next, look through your literacy standards or curricula. Make connections between the two. Which SEL skills are required for students to be effective readers and writers? Which literacy skills and structures are great ways to practice the SEL skills kids need to learn? For a more complete write-up of this activity, check out this blog post.

Brainstorm SEL Skills Needed for Structures of Literacy Workshop

This is an activity I tried one summer while teaching a course through the University of New Hampshire Literacy Institutes. We brainstormed common structures used in reading and writing workshop—ones like sustained independent reading/writing, peer and teacher conferences, book groups, read-alouds, whole class lessons, strategy groups, etc. Then, we generated a list of the SEL skills students needed in order to participate effectively in each structure. For example, in order to have good reading conferences, students needed to know how to sit facing their partner, how to make eye contact, how to ask interesting questions, and how to share about a book in a concise way, just to name a few. These lists that we created provided a great starting point for everyone as they considered what to teach, especially at the beginning of the year when setting up these structures.

These are, of course, just a few ideas, but hopefully they’re enough to get you started. I think one more point should be made. Sometimes, teachers worry that they don’t have enough time to teach students social and emotional skills when they already have so many academic ones to teach. The more you explore the integration of SEL in literacy workshop, the more it becomes apparent that SEL skills areacademic. Many are built right into our academic standards and many more are required to participate effectively as a reader and writer in school every day. In the end, I think it’s fair to argue that we don’t have time not to teach social and emotional skills as a part of everyday literacy instruction!

The Buzz About Phonics and Word Study From Spelling Bees to Classrooms – Sparking Students’ Interest in Words

by Jillian Fountain, Intermediate/Middle Literacy Trainer, Lesley University Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative

Jillian FountainLast month, ESPN aired the 90th Scripps National Spelling Bee.  You may have watched some of the contestants as they asked for the etymology of a word, the pronunciation again, or the familiar question, “Can you please use it in a sentence?”  The contestants certainly appeared nervous, but if you looked closely, you would also have recognized the moment when a child’s eyes glimmered, the corner of her mouth ticked up just a bit, and she allowed herself to exhale.  The expression on each contestant’s face in that moment of recognition made me realize something.  We, as educators, craft belief statements about literacy instruction, but often we leave word study out of these written proclamations.  Yet, learning about words and how they work impacts all aspects of literacy.

I am in awe of how much interest the spellers in the Scripps National Spelling Bee have in words and how they work, and I began to think about what I might begin to put in a belief statement about phonics, vocabulary, and spelling.

Students will develop curiosity and excitement about words and how they work.

When children feel excited about something, it drives them to discover more about it.  Students who are curious and excited about words will notice new words and share them with classmates, talk about favorite words, and use words or parts of words learned in various instructional contexts in their own reading, listening, speaking, and writing.  The energy they exhibit becomes infectious.

Students will use what they understand about words to expand their knowledge.

Phonics, spelling, and vocabulary are complex concepts that require many years to develop.  As adults, we continue to grow our understandings of words and how they work.  We also know that learning builds on learning, meaning that broad understandings get refined as students participate in reading, writing, speaking, and listening over time.  If during a word study minilesson, a class learned that adding the suffix –al to a noun makes it an adjective, meaning “related to,” the next time they encountered a word like chemical, the students would notice it and refer back to their previous learning.  In writing, if a student wanted to describe something that happens over and over again, he could think about how it is a cycle, and use his knowledge of the –al suffix to call it cyclical.

Phonics_Event_PhotoStudents will recognize relationships between words.

Words are closely connected with one another.  Synonyms, antonyms, homophones, homographs, words that have similar meanings that are not exactly the same, multiple meaning words, words that share the same base word, etc., turn language into a puzzle.  If students can spend time thinking about how words are related, it will deepen their understanding of words and how they work, as well as help them more quickly recognize words and their meanings, and more rapidly access words to use in talk and writing.

Students will use their knowledge of words to more clearly understand, and more precisely communicate. 

Ultimately, the point of teaching phonics, spelling, and word analysis strategies is to develop students’ proficiency as readers, writers, speakers, and listeners.  If students internalize word-solving strategies, they can quickly and without much effort, accurately read books, articles, letters, and other pieces.  They can also produce a large amount of writing to create readable stories, poems, essays, and other pieces.  If they know a lot about parts of words and relationships between words, they can understand what the writer of a piece or a speaker is trying to communicate.  They can also consider the same information when deciding how to say or write something to get across the message they are hoping to convey.  Think of the power that lies in understanding and communicating precisely.

The Scripps National Spelling Bee occurs once per year, but what I learned from watching this year’s event will stay with me.  As I continue to help teachers think about word study instruction, and how to support students’ understandings of how words work across the school day, I hope teachers see the value in this work.  A curiosity and excitement for, and a depth of knowledge of words will help students throughout their lives.

For more information on our Phonics, Vocabulary, and Spelling in the Reading/Writing Classroom K-3 course August 7-11, 2017 in Cambridge, MA, click here!

 

Navigating The Literacy Continuum to Guide Responsive Teaching

by Helen Sisk, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Faculty

 

helen-siskTeaching in a responsive manner requires us to think reflectively about literacy growth by noticing and analyzing student talk and written work. We reflect on why students respond in certain ways and know how to help them take on next steps in building a complex and flexible literacy processing system. It takes a skillful teacher to do this effectively.

One tool that can guide our decision-making is The Literacy Continuum: A Tool for Assessment, Planning, and Teaching (Fountas and Pinnell, 2017) It is a valuable resource to support us in observing what students know and understand as readers and writers and it informs our teaching. It is organized around eight literacy learning continua that span grades PreK-8. Not only is it aligned with literacy standards, it includes detailed descriptions of student progress over time.

The Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative at Lesley University is excited to offer an introduction to this continuum during our summer institute for teachers of grades K-6: “Navigating the Literacy Continuum to Guide Responsive Teaching,” This institute is an opportunity to delve into the new, expanded edition of the Literacy Continuum, and learn how to use it as a guide to observe, plan, teach, and reflect on literacy teaching.

The reading focus in this institute includes extending teacher and student talk for effective processing during interactive read aloud and shared reading. Two other components that further address comprehension include guided reading and writing about reading.  All of these literacy elements will be explored.

The writing focus begins by understanding the continuum of word study and how it progresses over the school year and across grade levels. We will study student writing to develop purposeful mini-lessons and the talk surrounding teacher-student conferences to identify strengths and next steps to address in teaching.

Come hear Irene Fountas discuss the Literacy Continuum and its impact on teaching and learning. Work in small groups with literacy trainers and other teachers to refine your practice and expand your knowledge about the teaching of reading and writing.

We hope to see you here at Lesley University for our Summer Literacy Institute, July 10-13, 2017. Register now!

A First Timer’s Guide to Registering for the Literacy for All Conference

We’re excited to announce we’ve opened registration for the 28th Annual Literacy for All Conference, co-hosted with The University of Maine, and the University of Connecticut. This year the conference will be held October 22–24, 2017 in Providence, Rhode Island. While we know many of you are veteran LFA attendees, each year we have more and more new faces joining us in Providence. Welcome to all first timers!

We have made it even easier to register for the Literacy for All Conference! Simply visit www.regonline.com/lfa2017 and enter your email address to begin your registration process. We’ve put together a little guide to our online registration system to help make the process as quick and painless as possible.

An Important Note

We have created an online registration process that seamlessly guides you through the steps of registration. Please do not use your Internet browser’s “back” button if you want to go back and make a change, as it will cause errors and you will not be able to complete your registration. Instead, if you need to change something, complete your registration and then email us at literacy@lesley.edu, and we will make the changes for you.

Before You Register

First, you should make a list of all the sessions you want to attend. You can find the full list on our website. Each time block is listed with a letter, ie: LCA, LCB, etc. Then, each session within that time block is numbered. So, the full session code will read something like LCA-1 or LCC-4. You can only choose one session per time block, so you should have one LCA, one LCB, and so on.  Please note, that on our online registration system, RegOnline, the sessions are listed with only the code and the presenter name, not the session title, as shown below.

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The only variation is in the In-Depth sessions, which occur either in the C or F blocks. In-Depth sessions are three hours long, not the normal 90 minutes, so if you choose an In-Depth session for your C or F, you will not be able to choose a D or G, respectively, as the In-Depth session will run through that time.

If a session doesn’t appear on the drop-down menu that means it is sold out and you will have to choose another session. Sessions do sell out, so we recommend registering as early as possible to ensure you get all your first choices.

Second, know your method of payment. If your district will be paying for you with a purchase order, you don’t need to know the purchase order number to register. If your district will be paying for you with a credit card, you can still register yourself. When you get to the checkout screen, simply choose “Pay with Purchase Order” and then have your district call us with the credit card number, or fax or email us the PO within ten business days of registering.  Please note, if you are paying with a purchase order (PO), we require that you submit a copy of your PO to secure your registration.  If your PO has not been received by the opening of the institute, you will be required to provide a credit card in order to attend the institute.

We recommend that all attendees register themselves. The process begins with an email validation– you’ll receive an email with a secure link, which you’ll need to click on in order to continue your registration. Forwarding these emails can sometimes be tricky, so we recommend you register yourself to avoid confusion.

If someone else has to register for you, we recommend that you choose your sessions ahead of time and give the list of sessions, including session code and presenter name to the person registering you.

When entering in your personal information, please note that there are separate spaces to enter your school district and your school name, as shown below. When entering your district, please don’t use abbreviations like RSD or UFSD– if the district has a separate name (ie: Oxford Hills School District) please use that; alternately, please spell out the words Regional School District. This will help us keep uniformity in printing name badges, and help match up registrants to purchase orders when we receive them.

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Confirmation

When you’re done registering, you will see a screen confirming that your registration is complete. If you don’t see that screen, you haven’t finished registering yet! Once you get to that screen, be sure to read it thoroughly, as it contains details about which sessions have required readings and materials, a list of conference policies, your own detailed agenda based on the sessions you selected, and other helpful links.

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In addition to the confirmation page, a confirmation email will be automatically sent to the email address you provided. If it doesn’t appear within an hour of you registering, check your spam and junk folders, as some email providers mark emails from RegOnline as spam by mistake. In the past, many were not able to receive RegOnline emails, because many schools block emails from RegOnline, so if you have a personal email address, we encourage you to use it, instead of your school email, when registering.  If you don’t receive your confirmation email at all, please email literacy@lesley.edu and we will re-send it to you.

Please help us be environmentally conscious! Do not print out your confirmation message to mail in with your check or PO. Instead, just make sure your full name and district are written on the PO or in the item line of the check. That’s all we need to match up your payment with your record in the system.

Conference Events, Exhibit Fair, and Other Information

The conference registration desk hours are as follows:

  • Sunday, October 22, 2017: 10:00 am–6:00 pm
  • Monday, October 23, 2017: 7:00 am–5:00 pm
  • Tuesday, October 24, 2017: 7:30 am–9:00 am

The conference help desk will be open 7:00 am – 6:00 pm each day.

Literacy for All also includes an exhibit fair with booths showcasing classroom services and products for all grade levels and subjects. Exhibit hours are 4:00-6:00 on Sunday, 10:00–6:00 on Monday, with the Exhibit Fair from 5:00–6:00; and 7:30–3:30 on Tuesday. During the Exhibit Fair on Monday, you can enter to win something from our prize raffle, and get books signed by some of our featured and keynote speakers.

Please visit the conference website, www.lesley.edu/literacyforall, for information on hotels, parking, attendance policy and certificates of attendance, and sessions with required readings/handouts/materials.

Have questions? You can contact us anytime at literacy@lesley.edu or by phone at 617.349.8402.

Looking forward to seeing you all in October!

Making The Writer’s Craft Visible: Teaching Purposeful Decision-Making In a Writers’ Workshop

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by Helen Sisk and Heather Rodman, Center for Reading Recovery and Literacy Collaborative Faculty

This summer, improve your knowledge about writing and your expertise in teaching writing as you work with three well-known children’s authors and an amazing writing guru at the 4-day, Lesley Summer Literacy Institute: Making The Writer’s Craft Visible: Teaching Purposeful Decision-Making In a Writers’ Workshop.  Jack Gantos, Nikki Grimes, Steve Jenkins, and Carl Anderson will share their knowledge and experiences as writers and mentors.  They will help you examine texts to identify craft moves, notice how writers support their intended meaning, and make texts lively and interesting for others to read. As you develop your own repertoire of skills, you will learn how to teach your students to understand that writing is a series of decision-making choices that convey the writer’s purpose.

One learns to read by reading… and learns to write by writing and reading.  It is immersion into story and content with the close analysis of the writing craft that helps a writer create meaningful texts.  By engaging in an inquiry process to examine well-crafted texts at this year’s summer institute, you will learn a process to apply to any genre of writing.  Using The Continuum of Literacy Learning, other professional texts, and children’s literature, you will identify not only the craft moves writers use, but also think about how to use those same craft moves in creating well-written texts.

One aspect of fostering strong writing is for teachers to know how to assess their students as writers – what do students understand already, and what do they need to understand better as writers?  Teachers who study how writers develop craft, consider the role genre plays in writing and notice how conventions enhance meaning, can analyze student writing to design effective whole group minilessons, small group guided writing, and individual student conferences.  These three instructional contexts can assure that you meet the needs of a diverse range of student writers.

There is so much to learn as teachers of writing… and there is so much enjoyment to be had in engaging in the writing process as you enhance your skills.  Come participate in this amazing opportunity to learn from some of the best writers!

Hope to see you there!

Information on the Summer Literacy Institute can be found at http://www.lesley.edu/summer-literacy-institute/

Why Is It So Important to Use Mentor Texts in Conferences?

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by Guest Blogger Carl Anderson– Author and 2016 Lesley University Summer Institute Featured Speaker

The act of raising children involves surrounding them with mentors throughout their childhoods.  Piano and dance teachers, soccer and baseball coaches, and, yes, teachers in schools are all mentors for children who teach them things that their parents do not have the necessary expertise or time to teach themselves.

When we use the term “mentor text,” we are referring to a text that is an example of good writing from which children can learn about the craft of writing.  By studying a mentor text, a young writer can learn about how to write a lead, how to use punctuation to create cadence and rhythm in sentences, how to structure a text, or any one of hundreds if not thousands of ways that writers choose to craft their writing.

In a real sense, it’s the author of the text who is the mentor for the child.  A sixth grader who is studying Brown Girl Dreaming is learning about how to write from Jacqueline Woodson.  Or a first grader who is studying The Snowy Day is learning how to write from Ezra Jack Keats.  Just like Odysseus’s son Telemachus’ son learned from the Odysseus’s friend Mentor when Odysseus was away during his journeys in the ancient Greek poem The Odyssey, by Homer (I found out about the root of the word “mentor” from Georgia Heard in her book, Finding the Heart of Nonfiction!, students learn from the authors of every genre they study in a writing workshop.

Being familiar with mentor texts helps students with two of the key acts in composing a text.  First, when writers are starting to write a text, or a part of a text, they envision how it will go, a term I originally learned from Katie Wood Ray in her book, Wondrous Words (1999).  Writers often envision the overall structure of a text before they start writing it.  Likewise, when they write a section, a paragraph, a sentence, even the individual words that make up a sentence, they envision how these components of the text will go, too.  The root word of envisionment is, of course, vision.  For a writer to be able to “see” in her mind how a text or part of a text will go, she draws upon her knowledge of the kind of text she’s trying to write.  It’s through studying mentor texts that writers enhance their ability to imagine the many ways their own texts could go.

Revision, the part of the writing process that we usually think of as happening after writing a draft, refers to the act of making changes that improve a draft.  These changes might include adding detail to a draft, reworking a section, deleting a section, putting a section in a different place in the draft, or deciding to substitute one word for another.  Just as with the term envisionment, the root of the word revision is “vision.”  How do writers “see” in their minds how a text could be revised?  One important way is by thinking of the texts that they’ve studied, and comparing their drafts to those texts.  Ideas for how to revise a text come from that same pool of knowledge about texts that ideas for envisioning a text come from.

And once again, by studying mentor texts, writers are better able to imagine ways that a text could be revised.

Although I think it’s important to show students mentor texts when we are teaching the class a mini-lesson or a few students in a small group, I find that conferences are the place where mentor texts have the biggest impact on student learning, for several reasons:

  • In conferences, we can match a child up to a text that is at her level as a writer, and which shows the child exactly what it is I want her to learn to do right now. In a mini-lesson or small group, on the other hand, the mentor texts we show may not be exactly on each child’s level as a writer.
  • In conferences, since the mentor text is right in front of the child, he can closely study the text in a way that is harder when the text is projected onto a screen via a document camera, or onto the smart board via a laptop.
  • Conferences are more intimate than mini-lessons or small groups, and give us the chance to engage a child in a discussion about a text and how she can use what she is seeing in the text in her own writing.
  • In conferences, we are able to gauge whether or not a student understands the craft move that we’re studying in a text in a way that isn’t possible in a mini-lesson.

Finally, while we traditionally think of mentor texts as published texts—picture books, op-eds from a newspaper, short stories from a children’s magazine, etc.–they can also be texts that we have composed ourselves, or texts that have been composed by our own students.

Also, I use different kinds of texts as mentors to help students imagine the kinds of work they can do at other parts of the writing process.  For example, to help students envision what goes into keeping a successful writer’s notebook, I show them my own writer’s notebook.  I also show students my revised drafts–both paper and digital–so they can see the kinds of revision work I’ve done, such as information I’ve added in the margins.  I even show students edited drafts, so they can see the kinds of edits I make, and the symbols I use to indicate the kinds of edits I’m making.

You can hear Carl Anderson speak at our 2016 Summer Literacy Institute July 12-15, 2016. Register online at: https://www.regonline.com/Register/Checkin.aspx?EventID=1810005

 

Science Writing for Children Made Simple

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by Guest Blogger Steve Jenkins who is presenting a session at our upcoming 2016 Summer Institute entitled, “Writing About Science for Children: How Content Dictates Structure”

Writing, of course, is not simple. Writing about science is not simple, and writing about science for children is perhaps even less simple. So my title is just a questionable journalistic device to attract readers. But I have managed to come up with a few guidelines that I try to apply to my own non-fiction writing.

Since my own professional background is originally in graphic design and illustration, it feels a bit presumptuous to write about writing for an audience of literacy experts. When I began making books for children, I was inspired in part by my lifelong love of science — especially the science of the natural world. But I mainly wanted to explore the visual possibilities of the picture book. I’m still not completely comfortable with thinking of myself as a writer, though I’m getting there.

This story begins almost 30 years ago. I was reading piles of books to my baby daughter — my wife and I took turns reading to her every night, starting when she was too young to even sit up. Reading and looking at all those children’s books got me thinking that making a book might be fun. I say “making” rather than “writing,” because my first books were really about the illustrations. From the beginning, I was drawn to nonfiction about the natural world, and I quickly realized that words would be necessary if I wanted a book to convey much actual information. Or get published. I did make one wordless picture book, but most of the subjects I wanted to explore required some annotation.

Today, having published more than 30 titles, I find that writing has become my central preoccupation when I’m working on a book. I love the visual part of the process, and I’m always confident that — one way or another — a book’s visual challenges can be solved. Creating the illustrations is my reward for figuring out the structure and voice the subject demands. But the writing doesn’t get any easier. Just the opposite, in fact. In my early books I was blissfully naive about the writing process. I just wrote down what I thought would explain the image on the page. I didn’t rewrite as much. I didn’t spend all day on a sentence.

As I gradually recognized that getting the words right was as important (more?) as perfecting the images, writing became more and more of a focus. I remember being surprised and a little bemused that teachers and librarians I encountered at schools and conferences were reading my books and analyzing the way they were written, often recognizing patterns that had never occurred to me.

This may be more background than is really necessary, but I want to create some context for sharing a few of the informal writing “rules” I’ve developed for myself. These are rules that apply to my own writing — I’m not suggesting that anyone else should follow them (OK, maybe one or two of them):

Don’t underestimate the ability of young children to understand complex relationships and abstract concepts if they are properly explained.

New facts and information should be presented in a context that makes sense to children. Use metaphors or comparisons with familiar things. Even most adults can’t readily grasp large sizes, quantities, or spans of time.

Don’t mix different units of measurement or meaning in the same comparison. This is an unfortunately common practice in writing for adults: “There are only about 5,000 snow leopards left in the wild, and the population of Amur leopards has decreased by 80%.”

Clarify terms that seem simple but have multiple interpretations. This is a common problem with scale-related information: “Animal A is twice as big as Animal B”. What does ‘big’ mean? If it’s based on linear dimension, and if the animals are similarly proportioned, then animal A weighs eight times as much as animal B.

Introduce a few terms and vocabulary words that are probably unfamiliar, but not too many for the reading level of the audience. If possible, use new terms without formal definition in a context that makes their meaning clear. It’s more fun for kids to figure out for themselves what a word means.

Don’t anthropomorphize. Remember that these rules are for me. There are lots of good science books that use the first-person voice of animals, natural forces, even the universe. But these books make it clear from the beginning that there is poetic license involved, and that the reader is being invited to use their imagination to see the world from the perspective of some other entity. I’m more concerned about casual references to how animals “feel,” or what they “want,” in what is presented as an objective examination of their behavior.

If possible, anticipate the questions suggested by the facts being presented and answer them. This can be a never-ending sequence, one answer suggesting another question, so at some point one has to move on, but if we point out that an animal living in the jungle is brightly colored, it’s great to be able to say how color helps the animal (as it must, in some way, or it would have been selected out). Does its color warn off predators, attract a mate, or — counter-intuitively — help it hide? A colorful animal that lives among colorful flowers may be hard to spot.

Try to avoid the standard narrative. For many subjects, a typical story line seems to have developed. Often the same creatures or phenomena are used to illustrate a particular concept. Symbiosis: the clown fish and anemone. Metamorphosis: butterfly, frog. Endangered animals: rhinoceros, panda.

Don’t oversell science as entertaining, or make it goofy or wacky. Science is not primarily about making things smell bad or explode. There is thinking involved, and work. The fun and satisfaction come from understanding new things and seeing new connections.

Don’t confuse the presentation of facts with the explanation of concepts.

Finally, don’t follow lists of rules.


Summer Literacy Institute:

Tuesday, July 12, 2016 through Friday, July 15, 2016

8:00 AM – 4:00 PM

Making the Writer’s Craft Visible: Teaching Purposeful Decision- Making in a Writers’ Workshop (Grades K–8)

Teach your students how to learn to write from Carl Anderson, Steve Jenkins, Nikki Grimes, and Jack Gantos!

Location: Lesley University – University Hall, 1815 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02140